We recently caught up with our Participation Manager David Gilbert to ask him about Windrush Time Capsule, a Decolonising The Archive theatre forum piece that he's been busy directing. WTC is an immersive and energetic theatre project analysing African and Caribbean legacies through performance an visual display. Using a range of media and drawing on archival material, the play asks the question "what happens to a marginalised group that suffers the trauma of collective amnesia?"
Tickets are available now - Friday 26th October and Saturday 27th October. Get them now!
How did the collaboration with Decolonising The Archive (DTA) and The Africa Centre come about for Windrush Time Capsule?
The Africa Centre are close partners with DTA, so my first contact was mainly with DTA. It actually came from us doing SKFEST last year in Hackney. I randomly met the founder of DTA in the Hackney Library, when we were running our drama workshop in one of the library spaces. He comes up to me and was like "what are you guys up to?" We bonded quiet organically after that question and that led to me to writing his email in my dusty notebook at the time. Then, honestly, the rest is his/hertory. DTA is day to day run by Curator and Archivist, Connie Belle. We meet a few months later and really found a creative alignment in each other’s work and vision for the world.
Has Windrush influenced or informed any of your works before? If not, why now?
Hey... if you mean the time period of the Windrush specifically, I can't say it has or hasn't influenced my work. My work is influenced/informed by people more than the content - I'm always interested in things. I tend to work with a vast range of people from different backgrounds. However, I do remember looking into Windrush out of interest a few years back - there's a really cool photography book (that I'd recommend) about people of colour in London/UK in the 1950's; it explores the Windrush period, and gives you sweet visuals of how people swaggered then. I was just amazed by how cool peeps looked in there suits and that. Found it cool to know people like me have been here in London/UK way before me. Now doing this project I've come to realise that African and Caribbean people have been integrated into Europe many, many centuries ago!!! Your history is only as good as you know until you know more. Then you're like what?!! I'm more excited to see how doing this project affects my work in the next 10 years, as we're still developing it. It's too early to say now.
What was your favourite part of the piece?
For the version of Windrush Time Capsule we did at Africa Centre in June, there was one moment in the play that was just crazyyy! It's hard to explain with words but here goes... it was a dance sequence between a father and his son with a book about the history of pre-colonial Africa. The father was passing on this book to his son. *mic drop*
Windrush Time Capsule is a forum theatre piece. How effective was the audience participation in WTC and is that something you typically incorporate in your work?
I think we're still working out the best practice with how we can get audience participation vibing in the show. We had some really enriching post-show discussions with our audiences, which brought some good points for us to develop the idea of the Windrush Time Capsule as a forum theatre piece. In those post show discussions that we had, we learnt who the audiences' favourite characters were and why. We challenged some audiences to offer different behaviours for the characters to re-enact - which started to deconstruct the craft/ the separateness between the actors and audience. Opening it up to the audience to gain agency. From this space we could offer a few brave audience members the chance to jump up themselves on stage, and act out their desired behaviours in the context of the story of the Windrush Time Capsule. This is where we could explore more how to best do it I think. It's a very hard skill to get an audience member to get on stage without feeling like this is too weird!!
Why do things like this? I have done similar things in past work because I just want people engaged and excited when they see theatre. The shows I've always enjoyed have been the ones that have a really nice way of making you feel like you've been deeply considered and thought of it in the performance. That doesn't mean they've always put me on stage, no. But for me...yes a great way and simple way to create this welcome atmosphere is through forum theatre; inviting change and challenge - to get people involved a little.
Is there anything new you learnt about the Windrush generation after working on this project that surprised you?
When the Windrush Generation were back in the islands, they'd received a 'British' but, nonetheless, a good 'British' education. So, when they arrived out here in the UK - they obviously! - had high expectations for their children to get first hand 'British' education. But they got a shock, because what eventually became clear to them was, despite the discrimination they were immediately experiencing, they saw a lot of Britain's own people hadn't even received an education like what they had back in the Islands! So they tried to capitalise on this and send their children to these schools. However, discrimination wasn't going anywhere, even for their children. So the Windrush generation took it upon themselves to open up 100+ Pan African Saturday Schools across London/UK (not too sure on this) to make sure their children knew their history and were getting proper provision for the lack of it in the main education system so they're being nurtured by on a day to day. MAD!
Scratch That is a new artist development programme fro playwrights from typically underrepresented backgrounds. S+K aims is to support and develop an existing idea and transform it from page to the stage in four weeks.
Scratch That led by S+K's Literary Associate Myah Jeffers and guest director for 2018 Emily Aboud. We caught up with Emily and Myah it get some insight into the workings of Scratch That and it's importance!
How did Scratch That come about and what can participating playwrights expect from the programme?
Myah: Scratch That as a concept was the brainchild of our Artistic Director, Malakai Sargeant. After pitching the idea to me, we sat one night and really fleshed out how we wanted to start working with playwrights and developed the idea to what it is today. Participating playwrights can expect to be positively challenged by either myself or Emily and supported through the quick fire redraft process. Through this, they will have the ability to crack open their story in terms of the structure and narrative arc, as well as ending the process with a rehearsed reading of their work. I mean, I think that's pretty exciting!
Emily: I am so lucky to be involved in this fantastic programme. During the summer, Myah got in touch about this opportunity with the S+K Project, a company I admired; and, after hearing about Scratch That and the ethos of the company, I was utterly compelled to become part of the team. Participating playwrights can expect dramaturgical support and the opportunity for a proper R&D showcase, directed by either Myah or myself.
What's the process been like so far?
Myah: We're still kicking off actually. We had our introductory workshop at the Bernie Grants Arts Centre back in September, where we invited local writers to join Emily and I in shaping their narrative and exploring the possibilities of what their scripts could be. Through this, we obviously cheekily plugged Scratch That - but in general it was such a pleasure to meet so many hungry local writers with such quality ideas that would benefit from dramaturgical support.
Emily: The process has been inspiring. We ran a writers' workshop a few weeks back and got to meet writers of all ages and backgrounds. It has really made think about our definition of an "emerging writer". Often, programmes such as these are limited to those 25 and under, yet, our workshop had no age limit. It was wonderful and frankly, inspiring to speak to older writers, still at the beginning of their career and hear the stories that they want to tell.
Did you have access to anything like Scratch That at the beginning of your respective careers?
Myah: I started my journey in the theatre world as a Theatre Maker on an artist development programme called The Foundry at The Birmingham Rep. It was great opportunity to meet other makers and begin to learn about the ecology of theatre and performance. However, what is special about Scratch That is the one-to-one mentoring aspect of it, which means that participating playwrights will be able to take full advantage of Emily or myself and we'll be able to hopefully build a level of trust, which will ultimately have a positive impact on the process.
Emily: My career has revolved around mentorship. In my home country of Trinidad and Tobago, I was encouraged to write and perform with Lilliput Theatre and now, I return often to teach classes. It was incredibly difficult to pursue a career in the arts from the Caribbean and programmes such as Scratch That do not exist even in the most basic form. Since moving to London, I've been blessed to be in company of artists who have taken me under their wing and allowed me to explore, experiment and learn. It all comes down to mentorship and it's an honour to offer the same mentorship to someone else.
What do you both hope to achieve with this programme and why should budding playwrights sign up to something like this?
Myah: I'm hoping through this programme, S+K will begin to build a community of exciting playwrights who will not only receive bespoke support from us, but also receive support from each other. It's no secret that writing can feel quite isolating, so for us to expand and further explore the way we work with writers is quite an exciting thing for the company.
Playwrights, if you're reading this and you currently have a play idea or a draft of a script you'd like to further - get in touch and join the family!
Emily: This programme, to put it simply, is a way to give a new writer a platform to speak their truth. It's no secret that the theatre industry is a tough egg to crack; especially for those who have not had the opportunity (or Oxbridge acceptance letter) to pursue it due to age, funds, access etc. Our submissions are completely open to every human who has an idea for a play. The goal is simple: to tell a good story, a story we've not heard before from people we've not it heard from.
After the amazing scratch performances of 'Void' throughout Spring 2018 at Battersea Arts Centre, Camden People's Theatre, Hackney Showroom – and with our Youth Theatre at Spotlight – we are now working in partnership with Bernie Grant Arts Centre to co-produce a London tour of a full show in Spring 2019.
After giving the cast a little break, we had the chance to catch up with Drew, Danielle and Ikky on their experience working on 'Void'.
What does ‘void’ mean to you? Did the meaning change after your involvement with this play?
Drew: To me the word Void implies that something is missing from something. Like a small
part of a being or object is empty. The emptiness is within the void. Over working on
the play my interpretation of the word hasn’t really changed but I have become more
aware of how voids can form within you and they can come and go, but we carry
round some form emptiness that needs to be filled. I think that is why we often need
validation through work, relationships and success in order to satisfy these voids that
eat away at us.
Danielle: Void for me is an abyss of empty space. From a cosmological viewpoint, I think of void as a black hole in space, nothing (light, elementary particles etc) can get out. But things, (planets, stars) etc can get sucked into that hole. Void is a space within our minds- our spirits where there’s just a black hole. I don’t think we have always started out with voids within us, I think at some stage in human being on this planet, we have created voids within ourselves. Voids are unnatural and shouldn’t exist in nature, for me it’s a state of being where one is devoid of love.
The meaning of void definitely grew and changed after my involvement with this play, it helped me delve deeper into the psychological processes that creates the voids within us.
Ikky: To me, void is the absence - a lack of, kind of like darkness or a black hole. I think since the play, my understanding of a void has evolved from something that had quite negative connotations to something more neutral. I see a void as a part of the universe and I see it for where it sits in our lives as opposed to something that needs to be overcome. I've started making peace with some of the voids in my own life.
Void is a piece that is subject to different interpretations. Did your own understanding of your respective characters (or even the play) change over time?
Drew: Yes definitely. When starting the play, I didn’t really have any clue what is was about and it is unlike anything I have worked on and would usually work on. As the process has been very collaborative, we have had to be open about life as the play explores the human condition, and it is very hard to explore your own personal void if you are a closed book to those you work with. At the early stages of rehearsal, I saw the character 3 as just an omnipotent entity that I was playing an interpretation of. However, the biggest change was that I came to realise that the three characters are all aspects of us, and aspects of me specifically. 3 became to me the balance and unstoppable rhythm inside of me that almost forces me to keep going in life. 3 is the voice in your head that pushes you forward through pain and the lows in life and if you ignore that voice or push it away you can find yourself in an even lower state. It all sounds very deep and to some extent it is, but feelings of emptiness are universal and I think anyone can relate to the themes.
Danielle : Yes absolutely. Every single rehearsals and every performance changed my understanding of the overall play and my character. My understanding of my character Number 2 developed in direct correlation to how I interpolated myself and my own personal experiences into the character. In doing so, I was able to better understand myself in as much as I understood Number 2. My understanding of the play grew with how much thought and discussion we had during rehearsals and how we approach each performance.
Ikky: One of the profoundest things about the play is that the more we read it the more we derived from it. Our discussions during rehearsals would range from personal traumas to religion, race and politics. Full credit to Rumi and his writing here, the richness and depth of the text meant we were still discovering parallels right up until our last performance. My character, #1, perceives all of time in one go and so struggles to live in the moment - always looking to the next event. The process really drew attention to the pitfalls of knowing 'too much' and how being stuck in your head; in the past, in the future, assuming and expecting, can retract so much from the experience of what is happening right now in the present moment. The present gives us so much more when it is experienced with every single sense and the full capacity of our awareness.
For those who haven’t seen Void, sum it up in three words.
Drew: Complex, thought-provoking, original.
Danielle: Unlearning Trauma, Time
Ikky: Metaphysical - mindfuck - meditative
What's been your favourite memory of working on Void so far?
Drew: My favourite memory was after the show at Hackney Showroom. It wasn’t the most perfect and polished show, but there was an inquisitive audience and after the show we had so many people come up to us and praise the show and talk about their own experiences relating to the themes of the show. Hearing that people had connected to our performance, with their own interpretations, some being the exact interpretation we had rehearsed, was an amazing feeling.
Danielle: My favourite memory of working on void was also the most vulnerable. During one rehearsal, Rumi had all of us, (including Malakai) sit in a circle and go through each trauma we have ever experienced and mark where on our body it affected with gold glitter. It was definitely the turning point for me and how I approach the play and my performance. It became less about ‘acting’ and more about how I was able to be in each moment.
The most important question of all – what’s your go to choice of meal deal?
Drew: Tesco Meal Deal: BLT sandwich, Pickled Onion Monster Munch, and Iron Bru.
Danielle: Falafel wrap, crisp and a innocent smoothie.
Ikky: I'm a vegetarian so frustratingly, my supermarket choices are quite limited! I recently had a 'Mediterranean Vegetables' sandwich which was decent but I guess the go-to would have to be a good old Ploughman's with an Oasis and a packet of Walker's Max paprika
Drew, how is your character Number 3 different to Number 1 and Number 2?
Drew: The main difference between 1 and 2 compared to 3 is that 1 and 2, in my opinion
are constantly changing. All the characters are aspects of one person and 3 is the
balance or the voice that says keep going when you experience trauma or lows in
life. 1 and 2 are aspects of you that feel the hard impact of this trauma. They go
through change as they both have a perceived void inside of them that is eating
away at their wellbeing. My belief is that 1 and 2 want to get rid of 3 as it would be a
way of ending the suffering. Without 3, 1 and 2 have no voice telling them to keep
going. 3 can be perceived a cruel character as 3 does force 1 and 2 to suffer through
intense pain. However, 3 believes that it is for the benefit of existence.
Danielle, you’re a poet, and you’ve said that Void is the first time
you’ve acted in something – how was this experience for you?
Danielle: This experience has been the most transformative, physically intense, fun, challenging for me. I’ve literally had to push myself so far outside my comfort zone and really stretch myself as an artist. I’ve kept an open mind and willingness to learn and grow which has really helped during the more ‘uncomfortable’ moments.
So, Ikky you've now worked on two S+K productions; you were in Boys last summer, directed by exec Steven, and obviously more recently Void by Malakaï, our other co-founder. What’s it like working with these guys?
Ikky: Man, these guys are so talented and down-to-earth I forget how young they actually are. They've got their fingers in a lot of pies which means they're pretty clued up on a lot of different topics and every day brings an interesting discussion which really enriches the work that we do. They are two very different characters though which is quite funny. Malakai is the most laid-back guy I know. Steven on the other hand will not back away from awakening you from your ignorance. Both ooze passion and creativity, it's so much fun to work with them not only because they are so switched on as directors but also because they are humble enough to discuss their ideas with the group and take onboard the suggestions anyone brings. They both epitomise the London vibe and it's an absolute pleasure being in their company both on and off set.